Understand your conflict management style to resolve conflict more effectively

Build upon, manage and practice conflict management skills with an online 30 minute workshop.

There are three truths: my truth, your truth and the truth.” — Chinese Proverb

This two-dimensional model of conflict-handling behavior is adapted from “Conflict and Conflict Management” by Kenneth Thomas in The Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, edited by Marvin
Dunnette (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1976).

It wasn’t hard to tell that the two people standing on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant were having a disagreement. The woman had her arms crossed, tapped her foot rapidly and stared at the ground. The man was shouting, waving his arms and twisting his head from side-to-side, sometimes in the direction of the woman and sometimes in the direction of the car at the curb with a large dent in its side.

The behavior of these individuals reveals two distinctive methods of coping with conflict. When confronted with a difficult situation with another human being, people react, to varying degrees, in one of two ways; (1) with silence where they may purposely withhold information or physically walk away from the scene without discussion or as in the scenario above or (2) they may yell or counter in a more physical manner. Understanding our conflict style under stress helps us to steer clear of silent or violent behavior, as well as generate a safe environment in which to maintain constructive communication.

The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) is an example of an assessment that gauges an individual’s behavior in conflict situations. By evaluating a person’s behavior along two grids (1) assertiveness—the extent to which the individual attempts to satisfy his or her own concerns, and (2) cooperativeness—the extent to which the individual attempts to satisfy the concerns of others—the TKI contributes to a broader personal understanding and resolution of conflict. These two dimensions, assertiveness and cooperativeness, can be used to define the five modes of handling conflict, as shown in the diagram above.

Michigan State University Extension utilizes the TKI in the first segment of their new nine-session, 30-minute online workshop titled “Conflict Smoothies.” The program is aimed at non-profit and government staff who would like to build upon, understand and practice conflict resolution skills. For more information or to register for the online workshop, visit the MSU Extension event page for the workshop.

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